What Is The Healthiest Nut Butter? (Your Nut Butter Buying Guide)

by Anjali @ The Picky Eater on July 8, 2016

Nut butters and peanut butters - all

Peanut Butter. Almond Butter. Sunflower Butter. Coconut Butter. Soy Butter. Cashew butter. Walnut butter. Multi-nut butter. Nutella (or hazelnut butter). Reduced-fat. No-stir. Natural. Organic. Powdered.

There are literally so many nut and seed butter options out there it can make your head spin.

And so many of them claim to be healthy, natural, low-calorie, a great alternative to peanut butter, etc. that it can be confusing to figure out which nut butter is actually the healthiest for you!

That’s where this post comes in 🙂

I have spent the past couple weeks researching the best, healthiest, truly-good-for-you (and good tasting!) nut butters out there, and these are the results.

This is your guide to finding the healthiest nut butter that will work for you and your family!

To start — is there a health difference between the categories of nut butter? For example, is Almond Butter healthier than Peanut Butter? Here is your answer: 

Peanut, Almond and Sunflower Butter are the healthiest – as long as the brand you buy doesn’t include processed ingredients, sugar, or stabilizers (more on that in a sec). There are minor differences in vitamin/mineral content between the three, but in the quantities you’d eat them, it’s basically a wash. The main differences are with taste and allergy-related issues.

The rest of the nut butters are not as healthy (coconut, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, walnut, cashew) — they are all higher in fats and lower in protein than almond/sunflower/peanut – so use these sparingly! While the fats from these butters are healthy, you can have too much of a good thing 🙂

And now — some general guidelines for finding a healthy nut butter:

#1 | The ingredients list should be short. Two ingredients max for a single nut butter. The ingredients should literally just be whatever nuts are in the butter (e.g. almonds), and salt (you can also get a no-salt version). So for an almond butter, you are looking for “Roasted almonds, salt” or “Raw almonds, salt” or just “Almonds.” Same for a peanut, cashew, walnut, sunflower seed or any nut butter you buy.

#2 | Organic is great, but the ingredients matter more. If your nut butter has the USDA organic seal on it, great! But if that same nut butter has “sugar, palm oil, etc.” on the ingredients list, you’re better off getting a non-organic nut butter that just has “peanuts, salt” on the ingredients list.

#3 | No-stir is a BAD thing!! I can’t stress this enough. Companies put “no stir” on the front of the label like it’s a benefit, but all that means is that some sort of palm oil or hydrogenated oil has been added to the nut butter to make it shelf-stable. Nuts are primarily fat. When you grind them up and store them, the fat should separate from the ground up nuts. Stirring is a good thing. So is refrigeration, which brings me to…

#4 | Nut butters should NOT be able to sit out without going rancid. A lot of “no-stir” nut butters can also be kept in the pantry (non-refrigerated) once you open them. Again, this is because of either hydrogenated oils or palm fruit oil preserving the nut butter – which means the nut butter is too processed. Nut butters should need to be refrigerated after opening.

#5 | Avoid these words on the label: honey/honey nut/honey roasted/honey flax, maple, flavored, vanilla, chocolate, nutella/hazelnut. Other than the nuts/seeds, and salt, no other ingredients should be added. All these terms mean is that the nut butter has tons of added sugar and is more like a dessert than a nut butter should be.

#6 | Reduced-fat is BAD. Reduced fat peanut or almond butters basically have the exact same calories as full-fat nut butter, but instead, to lower the fat content, a ton of sugar and other processed ingredients (corn syrup solids anyone?) are added to give the nut butter the “feel” of a full-fat version. Nuts have healthy fats that are good for you! Reduced-fat is bad. Full fat is good.

#7 | Sugar should NOT be on the ingredients list. Nuts are naturally sweet. If you see “sugar” or “syrup” on the ingredients list, don’t buy that nut butter!

#8 | NO Palm Fruit Oil (or Palm Oil) and NO Hydrogenated Oils (or Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils, Partially Hydrogenated Oils) on the ingredients list. Why? See my note below.

Note: Why should you avoid Palm Oil and Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (or partially hydrogenated oils) in nut butters? 

  1.  They are preservatives and stabilizers. They are added to enhance the shelf life of the nut butter (which honestly is already super long when refrigerated – it doesn’t need to be enhanced).
  2. Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats which have been linked to heart disease.
  3. Fully hydrogenated oils are still bad for you in that they are very high in processed, saturated fats which are combined with vegetable oils to create a substance very similar to partially hydrogenated oils. I avoid them because they are unnecessary and the evidence is inconclusive on whether they contribute to heart disease (source). And frankly, they have no place in a nut butter.
  4. Palm oil, while not as bad as fully hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils – is still a preservative added to keep the nut butter from separating (e.g. “no-stir”). The FDA warned recently that “palm oil is not a healthy substitute for trans-fats” because a government study showed that the saturated fatty acids found in palm oil “are associated with elevated heart-disease risk factors.” The World Health Organization came to a similar conclusion. (source).
So Bottom Line: Choose Almond, Peanut or Sunflower Butter, (or a mixed nut butter that includes all 3), and make sure that the ingredients list just has the names of the nuts included and salt. No sugar, no added oils, nothing else. For allergy-safe lunches, Sunflower Butter is the best choice.

*******

And finally, on to my detailed nut butter guide! Below are the best and the worst brands for peanut butters, almond butters, nut butter alternatives (peanut-free), peanut butter powders and reduced-fat nut butters.

 Peanut Butters

 

Peanut Butter

The Best:

  • MaraNatha Organic Peanut Butter
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Valencia Peanut Butter
  • Nutzo Original Peanut
  • Whole Foods 365 Organic Unsweetened Peanut Butter (make sure it only has two ingredients: peanuts, salt)
  • Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter
  • Smucker’s Organic Natural Peanut Butter
  • Santa Cruz Organics Peanut Butter

All of these varieties above have literally two ingredients: peanuts, salt. Since Nutzo is a nut butter blend, their ingredients are: organic roasted peanuts, organic roasted cashews, organic roasted almonds, organic roasted flax seeds, organic roasted brazil nuts, organic roasted hazelnuts, organic roasted sunflower seeds, sea salt (which as you’ll see – are just the whole nuts/seeds and salt, so it’s great!) Smucker’s was a pleasant surprise. Even Smucker’s non organic version has these ingredients: Peanuts, 1% or less of Salt. All of these options have ~200 calories for 2 tbsp, ~16g fat, 1g sugar, and 7-8g protein.

The Worst:

  • Skippy (Includes all of their varieties including Skippy Natural Peanut Butter)
  • Jif (Includes all of their varieties including Jif Natural Peanut Butter and Simply Jif Peanut Butter)
  • Peter Pan (Includes all of their varieties including their Whipped Peanut Butter)
  • Justin’s (Includes all of their varieties)
  • Any “no-stir” or flavored peanut butter varieties (Note: some of the brands above have no-stir versions of their peanut butters and honey roasted/etc. versions as well that should be avoided!)

Some notes:

Justin’s Classic is deceptive: the packaging looks like it should be healthy, but the ingredients list has Palm Oil. And their “Honey” version has these ingredients: Dry Roasted Peanuts, Organic Honey Powder (Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, Organic Honey), Palm Oil, Sea Salt. Not good!

Skippy Natural/Jif Natural are also deceptive: the packaging looks like it should be healthy, but the ingredients list has Sugar, and Palm Oil in it. Definitely avoid.

All of Skippy/Jif and Peter Pan’s regular varieties have Sugar, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Cottonseed & Rapeseed), Honey, Molasses, and Partially Hydrogenated Oils between them. Avoid at all costs!

 Almond Butters

 

Almond butter

The Best: 

  • Trader Joe’s Creamy Almond Butter
  • MaraNatha Raw Almond Butter or Organic Almond Butter
  • Whole Foods 365 Organic Unsweetened Almond Butter

These guys have two ingredients: almonds, salt. It’s great! A 2 tbsp serving has about 190 calories, 17g fat, 2g sugar and 7g protein.

The Worst:

  • Barney Butter (All varieties)
  • Justin’s Classic Almond Butter (All varieties)
  • Jif Creamy Almond Butter
  • Any flavored(e.g. maple, honey, etc.) or no-stir almond butters – including those varieties from Whole Foods or MaraNatha

Barney Butter is deceptive: Their packaging looks so healthy, but their ingredients list always has Organic & Fair Trade Cane Sugar, and Palm Fruit Oil on it. I don’t care if the sugar is organic or fair-trade. Sugar is sugar, and should not be in nut butters 🙂 Justin’s Classic has a similar issue!

Jif Creamy Almond Butter has these ingredients added: Sugar, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed, Cottonseed and Soybean), Sunflower Oil. Not good!

 Nut Butter Alternatives (Peanut-Free)

 

Alternative nut and seed butters

The Best:

  • MaraNatha Sunflower Seed Butter
  • SunButter Organic
  • Nutzo Power Fuel (Peanut Free)

MaraNatha’s brand is amazing. Two ingredients: Roasted Sunflower Kernel Seeds, Sea Salt. A 2 tbsp serving has 180 calories, 4g fiber, <1g sugar, and 9g protein!! SunButter organic has only one ingredient: Roasted organic sunflower seeds, which is great! 2 tbsp runs you 220 calories, has 2g fiber, 1g sugar, 6g protein. Nutzo Power Fuel is awesome because it has: organic roasted cashews, organic roasted almonds, organic roasted brazil nuts, organic roasted flax seeds, organic roasted hazelnuts, organic roasted chia seeds, organic roasted pumpkin seeds, and sea salt. 2 tbsp = 180 calories, 3g fiber, 1g sugar, 6g protein.

Not Great, But Not Terrible:

  • Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter
  • Artisana Raw Coconut Butter

My main issue with Trader Joe’s sunbutter is that they add sugar to it. So a 2 tbsp serving ends up with 3g sugar instead of 1g or <1g. Other than that their sunbutter just has sunflower seeds + salt, so it’s not ideal because of the sugar but not terrible. Coconut Butter is essentially just ground up coconut. Artisana’s brand literally just has one ingredient: coconut. In that sense, it’s good. But coconut butter has almost no protein (2g per 2 tbsp) — so it won’t be as filling as a traditional nut butter.

The Worst: 

  • Nutella
  • I.M. Healthy Soy Nut Butter

Nutella is marketed as this healthy breakfast “nut butter” spread, but it is literally a candy bar in a jar. Here are the ingredients: Sugar, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skimmed milk powder, whey powder, lecithin, and vanillin. The first ingredient is sugar! 2 tbsp of Nutella has 200 calories, 1g fiber, 21g sugar (more than a Snicker’s bar) and 3g protein. Avoid this!

I.M. Healthy Soy Nut Butter has Roasted Soybeans (Non-GMO), Naturally Pressed Soy Bean Oil, Granulated Cane Sugar, Maltodextrin, Palm Oil, Salt. Everything highlighted in red is why you should avoid this nut butter. If it was just soybeans and salt, it would be ok! The rest of these ingredients are unnecessary.

 Powdered / Low-Calorie Peanut Butter

Peanut butter powders and low cal options

In general, I’m not a huge fan of powdered peanut butter as a replacement for regular peanut butter – because it just doesn’t taste the same and has a weird texture when mixed with water. That said, powdered peanut butter can work great in smoothies, curry sauces, cooked dishes, etc. Or, you can mix it with regular peanut butter to add a protein punch to your Peanut Butter sandwich.

The Best:

  • Naked Nutrition Naked PB: One ingredient – roasted peanuts. 2 tbsp = 50 calories, 2g fiber, 1g sugar, 6g protein
  • Jif Regular Peanut Powder: One ingredient – roasted peanuts. 3 tbsp = 70 calories, 2g fiber, 1g sugar, 8g protein

The Worst:

  • PB2 (2 tbsp = 45 calories, 2g fiber, 1g sugar, 5g protein): Ingredients — Roasted peanuts, sugar, and salt. My main issue with PB2 is they add sugar to their peanut powder. It’s not needed!
  • Better N’ Peanut Butter (2 tbsp = 100 calories, 2g sugar, 4g protein, 2g fiber): Ingredients — Peanuts (as defatted peanut flour and natural peanut butter), tapioca syrup, pure water, dehydrated cane juice, rice syrup, vegetable glycerin, soy flour, salt, tapioca starch, natural food flavors, paprika & annato (for color), calcium carbonate, lecithin, vitamins E & C. The majority of ingredients in Better N’ Peanut Butter are totally unnecessary, and are added to make the product taste and feel just like regular peanut butter.
 Reduced Fat Peanut Butters

Reduced fat peanut butter

All reduced-fat nut butters are to be avoided! Don’t buy these.

Just look at the ingredients list for Skippy Reduced Fat: Roasted Peanuts, Corn Syrup Solids, Sugar, Soy Protein Concentrate, Salt, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed, Soybean and Rapeseed Oil) To Prevent Separation, Mono- and Diglycerides, Minerals (Magnesium Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Ferric Orthophosphate, Copper Sulfate), Vitamins (Niacinamide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid). It’s a far cry from “peanuts, salt.”

I hope this post helps you find the best nut butter for you and your family! And to sum it all up, here’s a handy infographic that you can print out and take with you when you’re grocery shopping!

peanut-butters (1)

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Edward Knapp July 11, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Great article, but I might suggest you separate the good PB graphic from the bad. It would be a whole lot easier to decypher. Thanks!

Reply

Anjali @ The Picky Eater July 15, 2016 at 9:16 am

Hi Ed! Thanks for the feedback! I’d suggest using the infographic at the bottom of the post — that should make it much more easy to digest 🙂 The pictures aren’t separated out but the lists are easier to digest side by side. Hope that helps!

Reply

Anisha July 14, 2016 at 12:55 pm

As a nut butter addict, this article is SO helpful. Thanks!

Reply

Anjali @ The Picky Eater July 15, 2016 at 9:14 am

Yay! Thanks Anisha! So glad you found it helpful!

Reply

GS July 15, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Thanks Anjali, this is great information. Loved your post! Would love to see similar one on sugar in future. Not sure which sugar is good…….

Reply

Anjali @ The Picky Eater July 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Hi! Thanks so much – so glad you found this post helpful! And I actually have already written a post on Sugar. You can find it here. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions!

Reply

Bradley July 25, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Wow! Thanks Anjali!!! In the past I ate Peter Pan – because everyone knows that the creamy Peter Pan tastes the best – at least, that’s what the commercials made me believe when I was a child.But my father insisted on tossing that crap in the trash if found in the house (I got to eat it on white bread when visiting my cousins back in the late sixties coz my aunt was the worst at nutrition). Instead, we always had one kind of peanut butter in our house – Laura Scudders chunky (all natural, 100% natural, I simply can’t recall what was on the label), and as far as I know (it was missing on your list so I’m going to have to check on the store shelf) it contained only one or two ingredients according to my dad – peanuts… maybe salt. And I believe it even said that you need to stir it up on the label, but even if it didn’t, it was pretty obvious because a new jar had about an inch and a half of yummy fatty oil sitting on the top. Do they still make it? I haven’t purchased jarred peanut butter in some time now, opting instead to get the freshly made stuff at Sprouts markets here in Super Sunny SoCal. Well, thanks again for a great *info-spective* (Now to get my daughter off of that Gnutella stuff, huh?)

Kindest regards,
Bradley

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Reply

Anjali @ The Picky Eater July 28, 2016 at 9:57 am

Hi Bradley! Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I also grew up in a household that bought all-natural peanut butter that you had to stir – it was a treat whenever I’d get to eat Skippy or Jif on white bread (usually at friends’ houses just like you!) I actually have never heard of Laura Scudder’s Peanut Butter – but I just Googled it and found her website: http://www.laurascudderspeanutbutter.com/product – and you are right that her peanut butters are great! I wouldn’t recommend her reduced fat peanut butter, but all of the rest are perfect. I’d put them in the same category as MaraNatha or Trader Joes’ Organic Valencia Peanut Butter. It looks like Laura Scudder’s is sold in some stores but it’s not sold nationwide, which is probably why I haven’t see it here in Ann Arbor.

Reply

Helen Ross September 8, 2016 at 10:17 am

Great post! I am such a fan of nut butter and this is really helpful. Thank you so much! Loved it!

Reply

Anjali @ The Picky Eater September 8, 2016 at 10:19 am

Thank you so much Helen! So glad you found this post helpful! 🙂

Reply

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